Summer story and science storytelling

As promised last week, here’s a link to my story Summer of ’96 at The Fiction Pool. I wrote it in June for the Ilkley Writers summer-themed evening of readings, as I mentioned at the time. Everyone will get something different from it, such is the nature of these things, but partly it was about it being time to move on, about not fitting but not necessarily seeing that as wholly a bad thing. I left school in the summer of 1996, aged 17, but I assure you I didn’t go to the coast with my friends and the story is entirely fictional (though Benjy has an element of a lad I was good friends with at the time). Though the link might not be obvious the story burst forth from my repeated relistening to Born to Run when I was reading the Springsteen autobiography of the same name, and the length and rhythm of some of the sentences are directly a result of that. They were kind of hard to read out, particularly with hayfever, so I’m glad it’s in print now and you can all read it for yourselves instead.

Another thing you can read if you’re of a mind is an article in the SciArt magazine STEAM special, about Alice Courvoisier and I doing science-related storytelling in York last year (which you may have read about here at the time). STEAM stands for the usual STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) plus arts, and the special supplement is full of people from universities talking about interdisciplinary education. I had a minor moment of excitement at being on a contents list with someone from MIT (you may need a physics background to truly appreciate that).


Schedule? What schedule?

I blame the heat. Or hayfever. Or insomnia caused by both of the above. Anyway it’s Tuesday and I’m late with this blog post. Think of it as letting the anticipation build, if you like.

Excitement abounds for National Writing Day tomorrow, for which Ilkley Writers are reading new stories about summer and light (it being the longest day) then hosting our first prose open mic.


I was quite pleased with the flyer I designed

This being us, several of us have eschewed the sunshine and ice cream vision of summer and gone darker. My story, Summer of 96, begins I wore a babydoll dress that night because it was summer, and you know pretty soon it’s not going to end well for someone.

The title of my summer story is of course a nod to the Bryan Adams song Summer of 69, while also referring to the summer I was 17, the age my narrator is, and I wanted the characters not to have mobile phones, and to have to re-tune Radio 1 periodically on a long journey so it all kind of fit. Often, I have great trouble with titles (see title of blog post for further evidence) and seeing the range of titles on the Bath Flash Fiction longlist this morning I realised (again) that this is an area I need to work on.

However, poor title or not, I have (3rd year running!) got a story in the FlashFlood on Saturday for National Flash Fiction Day. You should be able to read mine at about 1.40pm (BST), it’s called She gets it from your side. This one was written as a response to the oft-recited Ernest Hemingway 6-word story about the unworn baby shoes, and is either fantasy or magic realism depending on your views on these things.

Summertime and the writing is easy


Less than a week after snow I’m breaking my sandals out, as we seem to have accelerated through Spring and into Summer this week. Fittingly, my summer working hours kicked in this week so I have slightly more time outside of the day job in which to wander on the moor, in the woods, or by the river, or read a book with the cat sprawled on me. Or, of course, write.

I don’t seem to have written much fiction lately (or this blog, come to think of it). Book reviews, an essay (which will probably appear here if it doesn’t get accepted where it’s been submitted), spontaneous and natural links for the radio programme, but not much in the way of stories except a couple of pieces of flash fiction. I wrote one of those for a competition and it’s already not been shortlisted, and the other I wrote because I felt like it, then sent it to a magazine that doesn’t mention on its website that it’s closed to submissions for a while. They will both now sit in my pending folder for another few months till I go through another bout of enthusiasm.

I love writing, as you can no doubt tell. I even finish things sometimes, though it can take a while (I finished the first draft of a novella a few weeks ago, first started in 2012 I think). What I don’t like so much is submitting stories to competitions and magazines. All those fiddly guidelines, subtly different from one place to the next. All those cover emails where I’m never quite sure what to say (or submission forms where a cover letter is optional. Does it look bad if I don’t? Will they read it if I do?). I’d be a lot happier sometimes if I could just get on and write and not worry about submitting, re-submitting, reformatting and all that jazz. But then, what’s the point of writing it all if no-one reads it?

Heat, laziness, mildly exciting activity

This week has felt like summer, specifically a hot summer, one which I imagine occurs on a regular basis in the South but thankfully not here. It’s been (for a few hours) too hot to drink tea, which is frankly unacceptable. On Tuesday the temperature reached 84 degrees (Fahrenheit, obviously. In Celsius I think that’s ‘very hot’) and on Wednesday I went to bed much later than intended as I couldn’t tear myself away from the quiet storm raging over the valley. Like being under a giant faulty striplight.

Picturesque and interesting as it’s been, it’s also been (for me at least) uncomfortable, oppressive, and absolutely not conducive to getting any writing done. The energy required to hold a pen hasn’t really been there. The idea of being in close proximity to a laptop generating heat has not been an attractive one. I went to the library one lunchbreak during the week and sat idly in a patch of sunlight from a high window, revelling in the feeling of bare yet warm arms resting on the wooden table. I didn’t do much writing though.

In theory, I’m hard at work on my piece for the Ilkley Writers fringe performance in October, but what’s actually happening is I’m writing down disjointed ideas and pretending they’re fermenting and producing something useful. The looming deadline for a draft will no doubt galvanise me into action. I have been writing some book reviews – there’s a new one due at Luna Station Quarterly in a couple of weeks, and I may be reviewing elsewhere soon (details here as soon as it’s certain), and partly related to that I’ve been to the library twice in the last 2 days and now have a stack of books so high I seriously doubt I can read it all in 3 weeks (even without the inconvenience of the day job cutting down my reading and writing time).

That said, I’ll take my leave now and get some proper writing done. Or I might return to the slightly silly but highly entertaining interactive fiction (like those Choose Your Own Adventure books which may or may not still exist) detective story I’ve been writing with OneMonkey this weekend. As I go, I tip my battered straw hat to all of you who live in warmer climes and yet somehow manage to function on a daily basis, and even write stuff.

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Let me invite you into the world of my weekend. Can you…

  • see the knee-high buttercups, the tall grasses and red clover with the freshly-strimmed paths through? The dark red dianthus and the magenta senetti whose flowers seem to glow on the edges of perception?
  • hear the chorus of bees like formula one behind a closed door? The magpie shrieks tearing the air, and the cat purring placidly in the shade of a bush?
  • smell the honey-rich white clover, the fresh-mown grass from the meadow paths, and the faint warmth of a dozen different roses? The strawberry scent of melting ice cream?
  • feel the warmth of long-absent summer on bare arms? The rough wood of home-made garden furniture and the texture of self-heal under bare feet?
  • taste the long, cool glass of apple and pear juice and the smoky air tainted by distant barbecues?

Welcome, and goodnight.

Summer distractions

I don’t seem to be writing much lately, I blame it on the heat. The long warm days are getting blamed for a lot at the moment: I’m drowsy but restless, lacking oomph and concentration in equal measure. I can’t even be bothered to listen to the World Cup, I’ve sat through one full and two or three half-matches so far and although I still care who wins, at this rate I’ll be turning the radio off at half-time during the final, then snoozing through the second half.

I’m not a summer person. The colour of the leaves and the smell of the air in autumn are refreshing to the soul; winter has crispness, frost and snow, visible breath; spring smells fresh and alive, and the feeling of air on a partially exposed neck after months of scarf-wearing is wonderful. Summer is sneezing, wasps and other flying pests, the acrid smell of neighbours’ barbecues, sleepless nights, burnt skin and never having the right clothes on. I guess it’s a question of personality.

So, on the one hand I’m shocked and mildly panicked that the year is now half over when surely it was winter only a couple of weeks ago, and on the other I’m glad that we seem to be speeding towards cooler days. Because of course, once the weather’s more to my taste I’ll be organised and disciplined, I’ll write every day, finish every story I start, and submit them all in a sensible order.